Archive for June, 2012

Calling all cat lovers

This will be my last post as Star Author for the month. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed myself! For my final blog, I thought I’d chat a little about my next book and see what you think. I’ve just started writing it, and like many of my books it was inspired by my pets – namely, two little kittens named Lil and Luci (pic below).

 Luci is an SPCA rescue cat and Lili is a purebred Burmilla. They adore each other and spend most of their time playing together and getting into mischief. Watching them one day, I thought about a story based around cats. It’s a modern-day adventure about a girl who finds a stray cat ‑ a knotted and bedraggled longhaired cat. She’s not allowed to keep her, so she works up the courage to take the stray to an “odd” woman who lives in her neighbourhood. She’s an eccentric lady, lives in a house surrounded by hordes of rescue cats. The kids in the neighbourhood are scared of her, imagining she’s a witch, of course! Some weird things happen, but I won’t give away too much away and the story may change as I write anyway. Sometimes the characters take over!

 Thanks for taking the time to read my posts. If you’d like to meet some of my animal friends and read more about my books don’t forget to visit my website or pop into my Facebook author page.

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Some fun writing rules

Hi everyone, I hope you all had a great weekend. I was lucky enough to see the comedian Lenny Henry on Sunday night, which was a lot of fun. I’m still in a light mood, so thought I’d share some fun rules on writing. The biggest part of a writer’s life is checking and rechecking work for grammatical mistakes and other errors. I have a fun list next to my computer screen which helps me with this. Here are some pointers:

 1.        Don’t abbrev.

2.         Check to see if you any words out.

3.         Be carefully to use adjectives and adverbs correct.

4.         Don’t use no double negatives.

5.         Just between you and I, case is important.

6.         Don’t use commas, that aren’t necessary.

7.         Its important to use apostrophe’s right.

8.         It’s better not to unnecessarily split an infinitive.

9.         Only Proper Nouns should be capitalized. also a sentence should begin with a capital letter and end with a full stop

10.       Verbs has to agree with their subjects.

11.       Avoid unnecessary redundancy.

12.       A writer mustn’t shift your point of view.

13.       Don’t write a run-on sentence you’ve got to punctuate it.

14.       A preposition isn’t a good thing to end a sentence with.

15.       Avoid cliches like the plague.

16.       1 final thing is to never start a sentence with a number.

17.       Always check your work for accuracy and completeness.

 

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Cool stories to discover at Story Cloud

There is a cool new website that’s just been launched in the UK where you can read, listen to and download a new story from a different author every Monday.  It’s called Story Cloud and it runs from 18 June to 3 September.

To read the stories you click on one of the icons and choose to read or listen to the story.  Then go and find the surprises in the pictures and see the challenges and tasks for you to write your own story. 

This week’s story is called The Talent Show, written by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Kristyna  Litten.  Check it out now at www.storycloud.co.uk

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The Witch, the Wardrobe and the What?

I read about a study carried out recently which found that fewer children these days know about famous characters from classic children’s books. When questioned, some kids thought Aslan was a giraffe and that the wardrobe led to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Very few had heard of Anne of Green Gables, Heidi, Jemima Puddleduck, or Pippi Longstocking.

The study suggested the characters are unknown due to the rise of TV and video games. But interestingly, only half had heard of Harry Potter despite being the star of hit movies! I’d love to know from you avid readers out there if you’ve heard of these characters, and what are some of your own favourites from classic books? I’ve always loved Heidi, and now I have a goat herd of my own I can play at rounding goats up on the hills…

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Join our Winter Reading Club

Winter Reading Club is a fun reading challenge that you can take part in throughout the June and July.  From Monday 18 June you can visit your local library and pick up your challenge card.  Just complete four challenges and you will get a mini prize pack.

Find out how to enter the Winter Reading Club – Read the rest of this entry »

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Al Capone and the seven basic plots

I live on a small farm with my horses and many others pets. I recently bought another horse whose name is Al Capone. He’s a beautiful jet-black boy with a small white star and looks to me more like Black Beauty than Al Capone! But his name really intrigued me. I knew that Al Capone was an infamous American gangster back in 1920s Chicago. I looked him up in the library and found out all these fascinating facts about him and suddenly I had an idea for a historical novel rattling around in my head.

But before I got carried away, I thought I should check first that other stories hadn’t already been written about him. I discovered that quite a few children’s books have indeed been based around him, including one intriguing title called Al Capone Does My Shirts! So I decided not to write this story as it’s already been done.

Then I remembered reading an article once about how all stories can be reduced down to seven basic plots:

1. Rags to Riches

2. The Quest (I thought about my own The Drover’s Quest)

3. Voyage and Return

4. Comedy

5. Tragedy

6. Rebirth

7. Overcoming the Monster (I thought about my own Saving Sam)

What makes stories unique is how the authors tell them. So, even if a hundred books have been written on Al Capone, so long as I approach the idea with a fresh and interesting angle it really doesn’t matter. Think of the books you’ve read lately – can you fit them into the seven basic plots above?

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Our War Horse, Bess

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Have any of you seen the recent film The War Horse, based on Michael Morpurgo’s brilliant novel? I still haven’t worked up the courage to go and see it because I know it will upset me too much. The main reason is that not long ago I researched and wrote the true story of New Zealand’s very own war horse, Bess.

During World War One, New Zealand sent over 10,000 horses to fight in the war. But unlike the war horses in the film, most of our horses were sent to the Middle East to fight in the desert. They took the men into battle and had to face searing heat, thirst, hunger, and weariness but they never failed their masters. Of all the horses that served throughout the entire war in the Middle East, only one came home. Her name was Bess.

 I read many of the diaries and letters of the soldiers, called Mounted Riflemen, who rode, lived, and sometimes died with their horses and it was very moving. They became very attached to their horses because they shared so much. I’ve heard the film is moving too; did any of you see it?

 

 

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Some writing tips

For those of you who love writing, I thought I would share some tips that have helped me on my own writing journey:

* Write about what interests you and then your passion will shine through in your writing.

* Great stories involve the main character facing a problem or obstacle and overcoming it through their own efforts. The main character grows and changes as a result.

* Great stories need great characters. Characters must be both interesting and believable. And remember your main character shouldn’t be perfect: even Batman has his weak spots.

* Use all the five senses when you write; describe scenes or action using sight, hearing, touch, smell, and even taste.

* Use strong and interesting verbs. Instead of “he walked to school” what about “he trudged to school” or “she skipped to school”; they convey more emotion and meaning.

* Show, don’t tell in your stories. For example, if your character is unhappy, don’t tell your reader by writing “Susan was unhappy.” Instead show how Susan is unhappy: for example, “The tears tumbled down her cheeks.”

*Start your stories with a great hook that will make your reader want to continue reading. And end chapters with a cliffhanger or a question not answered so readers want to turn to the next chapter to find out what happens.

* Writing is a craft: the more you practice it the better you’ll get!

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Ideas for stories are all around us

Often when people discover I write stories they want to know where my ideas come from. I tell them that it’s from the things I love and the things I’m interested in. When I wrote The Drover’s Quest, I’d already read many history books about the West Coast gold rush days and I was interested in what life must have been like “back then.” I remember reading about a group of bush bandits called the Burgess gang who murdered gold prospectors, and from there a germ of a story festered in my mind until The Drover’s Quest formed.

 

This has been true for many of my books. An idea will bubble away and slowly grow. I always keep a notebook to jot down these ideas. For example, a haiku (poem) at the site of an old Japanese prisoner of war camp near Featherston in the Wairarapa inspired another book I wrote called Dreams of Warriors. The haiku reads:

 

Behold the summer grass

All that remains of the

Dreams of Warriors

 

Not many people today know that NZ had a POW camp in World War 2 where we imprisoned captured Japanese soldiers. This story is about a special friendship that grows between a Japanese prisoner and a New Zealand girl, born out of their common love of horses. Do any of you have a favourite book with this familiar theme of unusual or unlikely friendships (for example, the pig and spider in Charlotte’s Web)? My favourite of all time is The Snow Goose, by Paul Gallico.

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Boom towns and wild mountain roads

Hi again after some wet and blustery days up here in the North.

I thought some of you might be interested in a few of the fascinating facts I learnt about our history while researching The Drover’s Quest. For example, did you know that during the heady West Coast gold rush days of the 1860s, Hokitika was one of NZ’s biggest towns? It was chock-full of pubs (at one count 84 hotels lined Revell Street), dancing halls, and gambling dens and home to colourful characters like Fenian Jenny who liked to dance in emerald green petticoats, and diggers with funny names like Johnny the Rat and Alex the Greek.

 The road through Arthur’s Pass had only just been completed, linking the goldfields to Christchurch. About a thousand men had hacked out a route through the rock and thick bush, using only pickaxes and shovels. It was a hair-raising journey across that early road. In those days, Cobb and Co was King, with many people travelling by coach across the treacherous Pass to get to the wild West Coast. I read amazing stories of runaway coaches and horses hooning down steep mountainsides, or else crossing raging rivers like the Waimakariri in flood, or the Taramakau, nicknamed the Terrible Cow. Exciting days!

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The Drover’s Quest by Susan Brocker

Our June Star Author, Susan Brocker has just released a fantastic new book called The Drover’s Quest.  It’s filled with Susan’s favourite things, including history and animals, and it’s set in New Zealand in the 1860s.

Rumour is flying around the west coast gold fields that Tom McGee has struck it rich and found a nugget of gold as big as a man’s fist. So no one is surprised when next his campsite is found wrecked and abandoned. Men have been killed for a lot less on the tough goldfields of 1860s New Zealand.

But one person is convinced Tom is not dead. His headstrong daughter, Charlotte.  Solving the mystery is not her first task, though. First, she must get to the coast. A skilful horse rider, she disguises herself as a boy and joins a cattle drive across the Southern Alps. To survive the dangerous drive over Arthur’s Pass and to keep her identity hidden from the vicious trail boss, she’ll need the help of her dog, her horse, and her father’s friend, Tama. She knows she can do it – she has to – but what will she find? And will her new American friend, Joseph, help or hinder her quest?

Charlie is in for the ride of her life – and the stakes couldn’t be higher.

If you love stories set in the past, stories about animals or stories with lots of adventure then The Drover’s Quest is the book for you.  The story starts in Christchurch and the characters travel over Arthur’s Pass to Hokitika on the West Coast.  These are my favourite parts of our beautiful country and I’ve travelled the route they took many times so I could see it clearly in my head.  It’s a route that is very quick and easy to travel today but was very rugged and dangerous in the 1860s.  There is a very tense part in the book where the drovers are taking the cattle down the Otira Gorge (it had me on the edge of my seat).

I really liked the characters, especially Tama and Joseph who bring different cultures into the story, and Scar because I couldn’t figure out whether he was good or bad.  The animals are also important characters in the story and they are incredibly loyal to their masters.

Reserve your copy in the library and stay tuned to find out more about The Drover’s Quest from our June Star Author, Susan Brocker.

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Titanic – My Story series by Ellen Emerson White

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We began reading this story out aloud at the start of the term because it is the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.We enjoyed this book because:

  • it was nail biting and exciting! We never wanted to stop reading it.
  • it was sad but also happy.
  • it was informative even though it was a fiction book.

We recommend this book to 7+ year olds who like to read dramatic stories or would like to read about the Titanic.

At the back of the book there are photos of the true story of the Titanic, a timeline and some true information as well.

The story is 145 pages long. A quick easy read.

 

From Room 17 at Avonhead

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Our own “Wild West” story

Hi everyone! It’s wonderful to be invited along to chat to you all and I’m looking forward to sharing a bit of my writing journey with you. As you can see from the books I’ve written, it’s obvious where much of my inspiration comes from! I’m animal mad, and that includes all animals – dogs, horses, wolves, cats, I love them all, and many of them pop up in my books. I also love learning about our fascinating past so often I try to weave history into my stories as well.

This is certainly true for my latest book, The Drover’s Quest, which is set in the 1860s gold-mining era. It’s the story of a headstrong girl who disguises herself as a boy so she can join a cattle drove across the Southern Alps to find her missing gold-digger father. During this time, many cattle were driven from Christchurch to the West Coast over the newly formed Arthur’s Pass to feed the miners. Charlotte (“Charlie”) has many adventures and mishaps riding her horse and working her dog across the wild mountain pass.

This story was inspired by the horses in my life and the trekking I do for pleasure. I love riding through the bush and having fun rounding up our pet cow, Bubbles, on my horse. And horses feature largely in our pioneering past. They were the main form of transport of course, but they were also used to move vast herds of cattle and sheep across the land. In some ways, our history in the late 1800s was similar to the taming of the “Wild West” of America. Rugged pioneers, bush cowboys, gun-toting outlaws, and desperate diggers feature in our past too. In The Drover’s Quest, many of these colourful characters gallop through the pages. I hope you’ll enjoy their journey.

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Red Rocks by Rachael King

While holidaying at his father’s house, Jake explores Wellington’s wild south coast, with its high cliffs, biting winds, and its fierce seals. When he stumbles upon a perfectly preserved sealskin, hidden in a crevice at Red Rocks, he’s compelled to take it home and hide it under his bed, setting off a chain of events that threatens to destroy his family. Can he put things right before it’s too late?

Red Rocks is a magical adventure story, set in New Zealand.  Rachael King has taken the Celtic myth of the selkies and transplanted it into a New Zealand setting that kiwi kids will relate to.  Jake is an average kid who gets sent to live with his dad for a few weeks, and like any kid, soon gets bored and sets off to explore the coast.  I really liked Rachael’s interesting cast of characters, from old Ted who lives in a run-down shack along the coast, to the mischievous Jessie and mysterious Cara.

One thing that I really love about Red Rocks is Rachael King’s beautiful writing.  She’s very descriptive so she paints a vivid picture of the wild, windy coast.  It’s the sort of book that you want to read snuggled up in bed because you almost feel the biting wind and the freezing ocean.

Reserve your copy of Red Rocks at the library.  You can also win a copy this week on Free Book Friday.

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Meet our June Star Author Susan Brocker

Our fantastic June Star Author is New Zealand author, Susan Brocker.  Susan has written a wide range of books for children and teenagers.  Some of them are non-fiction about topics like wildlife conservation and natural science.  Her favourite books are stories she’s written about her favourite things, such as horses, dogs and animals of all sorts.  She loves bringing history alive and making it exciting.

We have lots of Susan’s books in the library, including Restless Spirit, Brave Bess and the Anzac Horses, A Wolf in the Wardrobe, and her latest thrilling historical story, The Drover’s Quest.

Thanks for joining us Susan.  We look forward to hearing all about your books and your writing.

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June Star Author Competition

Our fantastic June Star Author, Susan Brocker has been writing some great posts about her stories and giving us some cool writing tips.  One of her books that Susan has been talking about is her latest book, The Drover’s Quest, a historical story set in 1860s New Zealand.  It’s a fantastic book and you can read my review of it here on the blog.

We’re starting our monthly Star Author Competition again this week with your chance to win a copy of The Drover’s Quest by Susan Brocker.  Thanks to HarperCollins NZ we have 3 copies to give away.  All you have to do is leave a comment, with your name and email address, telling us:

What is your favourite animal story?

This competition has now closed.  The winner is Tierney.

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